Will the Huge Wheel Fad Ever End?

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Recently by Eric Peters: A Jury of One's Peers

In the ’80s, it was tinny electronic recordings advising you that “the door is ajar.”

In the ’90s, it was auto-strangulating seatbelts that assaulted you as soon as you closed the door.

Today, it’s the cement-headed obsession with oversized “rims” (ree-uhms, if pronounced correctly in High Ebonics).

The sight of something along the lines of a clapped-out ’78 Caprice Classic worth $1,200 sporting $3,000 worth of tackier-than-New-Jersey-Hausefrau Cameltoe twennies is a spectacle unique to our era. Like curb feelers and jacked-up rear ends (redneck high culture) a generation ago. Only those things eventually went away. And – they were mocked as markers of low culture (and a low IQ) at the time.

The Big Shiny Wheel thing shows no signs of fading. And it has permeated all strata of the culture.

The look is now routinely emulated by the designers of brand-new $60,000 SUVs (see, for example, the new Range Rover Evoque – it comes standard with nineteens and twennies are optional, right from the factory). The surest confirmation that the ghetto has moved to the ‘burbs.

Where did it all begin?

And will it ever end?

Larger (but not huge for their own sake) wheel/tire packages do have a functional purpose – up to a point. In the past, they were fitted pretty much exclusively to performance cars, for the purpose of enhancing their performance. A wider tire has a larger contact patch – and a shorter-sidewall tire flexes less – both of which improve things like steering response and cornering grip at high speed. But there are downsides, starting with a rougher ride and including higher rolling resistance from the increase in unsprung mass, more rapid tire wear and (almost always) much higher replacement cost.

In the context of a performance car, these liabilities are acceptable because the car handles, accelerates and brakes better. In other words, the larger wheels and tires make sense – they have a functional purpose – and the downsides are accepted in return for the enhanced functionality.

But twennnies on a 165,000 mile ’78 Caprice?

Or a new Camry?

At first, it was mere copycatting. Standard cars were made to appear sportier-looking by outfitting them with larger/wider/taller wheels. But it very quickly got completely out of hand – to the extent that today, even minivans routinely wear 18 inch wheels – which is utterly retarded given the purpose (and character) of minivans. Same goes for “crossover” SUVs and all the rest. From a functional point of view, shoeing ordinary A to B passenger vehicles with huge wheels/tires is as silly in its own way as fitting a performance car with ever smaller wheels and tires.

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Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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